Aired on KSDS-FM on 8/19/16
RUN DATES: 8/10/16 – 9/3/16
VENUE: ion theatre (at The 10th Avenue Theatre)
“You gotta just soak it all in,” the hooker says to the visiting 16 year-old. That’s good advice for the audience, too.
“Airline Highway,” by Pulitzer Prize finalist Lisa D’Amour, is an intense experience. The 2014 drama is set in the parking lot of the decaying Hummingbird Motel, on the straight-arrow road outside the never-ending bacchanal that is New Orleans. We spend a drunken, debauched evening in the company of the damaged and disillusioned, loners and losers, the hapless and the hopeless who have formed a family in this dead-end dive.
They’ve gathered together for a living funeral. Former stripper Miss Ruby, their matriarch and mother hen, is on her way out, but she wants to be there for her memorial merrymaking.
One of the former residents is the bad boy called Bait Boy, who arrives with his Sugar Mama’s teen in tow. This privileged, bored and overburdened girl wants to interview these members of a “subculture” for a high school project, which allows her to ask lots of questions, and offers us some pretty harrowing backstories.
“We are the damned!,” exclaims the over-the-hill, would-be poet. But young Zoe thinks “this is the realest place” she’s ever been.
In a rowdy, crowded, stunningly designed and directed production helmed by ion theatre executive director Claudio Raygoza, people talk at once, they fight and save each other, they scream and sing and flash their breasts and strip down to nothing but a boa. In these wonderful portrayals, the characters feel so real, we get the sense that we’ve truly met them, and pulled an all-nighter with them, and worn ourselves out listening to them and watching them and aching for their deadbeat, bad luck lives.
The play makes a glancing commentary on the haves and the havenots. Ruby, in her final homily, tries to assure her ducklings that they’re “not disposable, [they’re] invaluable.”
It’s a disturbing slice of life on the other side of the tracks. But still, Miss Ruby encourages, “Don’t run from your ragged selves… If you don’t have a job, you might as well put on a show.” And that they do, in excellent, celebratory form.
©2016 PAT LAUNER, San Diego Theater Reviews